The Best Bad Writing Advice I’ve Ever Been Given

bonesmain.bodymindfeat.WEBAbout ten years ago, in the middle of writing my seventh as-yet unpublished novel, I picked up my hard drive the wrong way and changed my life. Several MRIs and a couple of bottles of ibuprofen later, I ended up on disability leave, in physical therapy, and, thanks to the straw that didn’t quite break my back but gave it something serious to think about, I had to be taught how to walk again.

Tom, my physical therapist, is the most positive man I’ve ever met. If he were an animal, he’d be a big, goofy sheep dog who’d come trotting up and lick your face. He applauded the smallest of my accomplishments and had a way of spinning the ability to tie my own shoes into the equivalent of a Nobel Prize.

When I told him I was a writer, he wanted to read everything I’d ever written. When I told him I’d been in too much pain to get back to the computer, he taught me how to massage my workstation into ergonomic splendor. He hooked me up with a specialty office-supply guy and installed me into the Jaguar of chairs with the precision of a NASCAR crew chief. And on one particularly bad Friday, when I was frustrated over my lack of progress, aching from the treatments, and suffering the side effects of medication, he gave me some advice: “Go home and write a happy story this weekend. It will make you feel better.”

I promised Tom that I would, but I had no desire to write a happy story. I was angry that my life had taken this hard right turn. I was furious that after coming back from disability leave, I lost my job. I hadn’t slept more than two hours a night for the previous month. Happy wasn’t emanating from my pores. There were no fuzzy bunnies bounding through my imagination. I wanted to crash something through a window. I wanted to hear things shatter.

Mainly, though, I wanted to write. Since middle school, writing had become my escape, my salvation, and a kind of religion for me. I’d allowed my own misery to separate me from one of my greatest loves, and I was angry about that, too.

So I let it fly. Dangerously sleep deprived and dosed on yet another medication that did not work as prescribed, I put myself into my perfectly adjusted chair and set the fictional wheels in motion.

I sat properly—feet flat on the floor, small of my back nudged up to my lumbar curve, shoulder blades supported—and picked up the threads of the novel I’d left behind. I let a character tell me the story of how he commandeered a forklift at the factory where he worked and drove it through a plate-glass window, pinioning his boss to the sheetrock with the tines. It was organic to the novel I’d been writing and the tension that had been building inside me and the character. Cathartic, yes. Flowing sweet and soothing through my veins like warm honey? Oh, yeah. A happy story? Not so much. Publishable? At that point, I didn’t care.

Tom meant well. He always does. It did get me back to fiction again. Maybe that was his intention. But overall, it was the best piece of bad writing advice I’d ever been given.

Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

32 thoughts on “The Best Bad Writing Advice I’ve Ever Been Given”

  1. Brilliant anecdote. I wish I could turn bad advice into stuff, like you did. I just run … metaphorically speaking. I never do what I’m told. So I have no brilliant anecdotes either!

    1. How can you say that Rosanne? You’re so full of wonderful stories they spill out of you lie a fountain! I know you spend ages crafting them and researching every detail before letting us readers see them, but they have to be in yo in the first place before you can do that.
      We all have distractions which we use as excuses for not writing: children, family, friends with problems who need support, work, all sorts of things, even physical conditions that make writing hard like Laurie. But we seek and find ways round those. Laurie found Tom, and he obviously helped her, because she clearly values his contribution enough to tell us about it.
      You don’t just run, Rosanne, you get stuck in with good old Aussie grit, and we all look forward to your next offering. So don’t try and duck out like that.

  2. There is something about a serious back injury that really makes you feel so vulnerable. The first time it happened to me I was in my twenties, I was laid up for six months; I was in constant pain, angry (mostly at myself), and so very depressed. It was an industrial accident but in those days in Scotland there was virtually no compensation and no recourse.

    I was advised to get used to a more moderate lifestyle. I thought I was going to be crippled for the rest of my life and I couldn’t come to terms with it; so I rejected it. The following year I was a national representative for the Karate Union of Scotland.

    My back has given way on me, completely, two or three times over the forty years since that first time; unconsciously, I take precautions all the time, but I still do my daily karate routines, and most people who know me would be surprised to know I have a delicate back.

    I’m just saying, Laurie, that I understand the frustration, the anger, and the need to hit something, break something, roar at the world. Good post, Laurie.

  3. The best bad writing advice always seems to come from people who don’t write, doesn’t it? 😉 I’m glad you got back in the ergonomic saddle, Laurie.

  4. Great story, Laurie, and we’re all benefiting from Tom’s ‘bad’ advice.
    I would not be a writer now if not for a similar nudge. I was in therapy, dealing with long term effects of childhood abuse. Things had come to a standstill. My therapist told me to journal. I politely, but firmly told him “No way, no how. I hate journalling and it does nothing for me.”
    It only took him about a second to recover. “Then just write – write anything, but I want you to write.” So I did, and the rest, as they say …

  5. I have always processed through writing, either in my journal or just in a mad flurry of emotions as it sounds like you did, Laurie. And each individual time, each issue, demands its own process, so it sounds like you let it be what it needed to be rather than writing about unicorns and rainbows. Good for you. Last time I had an episode like that was when Drs found a lump in my mammogram, and boy, did I write! Pages and pages of ranting and railing. I was able to get all the raw emotion out so then I could concentrate on the physical task ahead of me. Helped enormously.

  6. Great post, Laurie! Writing happy when you’re not is a recipe for disaster. And, there’s just something so satisfying in writing a cathartic scene like that. Why, just the other day at breakfast my sweetie put his fork down, looked me in the eye, and said “You know, you’ve been a LOT happier since you started writing thrillers…” Something to be said for killing off some bad guys and blowing stuff up… 😀

  7. Great Post, Laurie. You triumphed! What I enjoyed the most, though, is that you show us writers as human and as frail as the next person. Actually, all of the posts reflect our frailties. And still, we write. That is grit–and never to
    be discounted.

  8. Laurie, first let me say I’m sorry for your accident, and I will send all the positive energy I can muster your way. I do believe this happened for a reason. Many a nightmare that came for a visit to my household opened doors that I couldn’t imagine. Your best work is yet to come and this may be the catalyst.

    You are brave to share such a personal experience.

    1. Thank you, Aron. I’m in a much better place now, as long as I take care to keep up my exercise program and get out of my chair once in a while. I try to see what happened as a gift. It took a while, good days and bad, and like everyone else, I’m still learning. And in a way, it’s been a great foundation for becoming an independent author. 😀

  9. The first piece of fiction I ever wrote down was triggered by my divorce. Therapeutic, yes. Life changing, yes. Publishable? God no. 🙂

    I’m no glad you got back to writing AND recovered. -hugs-

  10. Just how much did that hard drive weigh? 🙂 I’ve never been on disability but I did spend six weeks standing after one of my back ‘incidents’ – might have been when I bent down to pick a weed and didn’t come up again. Not able to sit. Raised my work station up with books. Didn’t impact my writing that I know of since I wasn’t doing much of that at the time. But using our own emotion to fuel writing? Yeah, got that down pat… Great story, Laurie. (oooh, I’m a poet…)

  11. Laurie, I’ve been there, done that! Years ago I had so much back trouble I was told I would be in a wheel chair within a couple of years. I wore a steel corset and was put to bed for eight hours daily. I refused to accept the verdict, and through a series of actions and serious determination, I overcame the problem. I had some relapses over the years, but always recovered—I now attend dance classes, walk, run, and am so blessed to have beaten something that took away so much at the time. I’m not careful enough with the computer positioning and everything else you’ve mentioned, and will pay good attention to it from now on. All back sufferers know prevention is infinitely better than cure!

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